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What we learned: Cowboys still have flaws to sort through before homestretch

Despite a much-needed victory in Week 13, the Dallas Cowboys showed that they still have work to do as they gear up for contests against their NFC East rivals.

DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys ended a tough stretch with a Week 13 win over the New Orleans Saints to temporarily right the ship. November had been a rough month in Big D, as Dallas went 1-3 before opening December with a win.

The victory in New Orleans was needed by any means necessary as the Cowboys couldn’t afford another setback before the majority of their divisional games are scheduled as the regular season reaches its crescendo. It remains to be seen if the 27-17 win on December 2 will propel Dallas on a late season surge, but it was an important contest to end their losing streak.

Here’s what we learned about the Cowboys in their Week 13 triumph:

Dak Prescott is still finding his way back

Playing quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys comes with a mountain of expectations, so, when the team is struggling, the man under center is going to catch some blame. 

Prescott was performing at a high level before a calf injury on the final play of an overtime win in New England sidelined him for a couple of weeks. He has been fighting to find that early-season rhythm ever since he returned.

Against the Saints, we saw what Prescott is capable of, and he showed that he is still one of the best QBs in the game. Prescott got the Cowboys out of some big third down situations with his pinpoint accuracy.

A touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Gallup to open the scoring was a thing of beauty as Prescott put the ball in the perfect spot for the score.

Yet, Prescott also missed some throws which he normally makes with ease. Some of the misses can be attributed to not being on the same page with respect to timing/routes with his receivers. Either way, Prescott needs to be sharper and return to the level of play he was showing during Dallas’ six-game winning streak.

Tony Pollard needs more opportunities

Over the past few games, it has become clear that starting running back Ezekiel Elliott isn’t right. The Cowboys are in a unique position where they have a dynamite runner behind Elliott with Pollard emerging as a threat.

However, the touches for Pollard haven’t increased enough since Elliott’s injuries have begun to take a toll. After watching Pollard’s long touchdown run against the Saints, it’s easy to see that he offers more than Elliott right now.

Pollard has earned more opportunities to carry the ball all season and now that Elliott isn’t himself, the third-year player out of Memphis has shown that he can impact the game.

The Cowboys need to give Pollard more chances out of the backfield to help give Elliott time to get healthy and for the offense to get back to where it was earlier in the season.

Kellen Moore’s play calling is in a lull

After a scintillating first half of the season, Cowboys offensive coordinator Moore was a hot name for the head coaching rumor mill. That talk has likely cooled off in the last month as Moore’s play calling hasn’t done the offense many favors of-late.

In the game against the Saints, the Cowboys struggled to run the ball well, especially on early downs, leaving too many third-and-long chances to convert. Obviously, it is up to the players to execute better on earlier downs, but repeatedly hoping for a long-yardage conversion on third down is not a winning formula, and, to that fact, the unit converted on just two of 13 third-down tries.

Moore also appeared dead set on forcing the rushing attack at the middle of the defense, which were not high percentage plays against a solid Saints front. When Moore called for an outside run, it had more success: see Pollard’s 58-yards score.

The offense needs to add more outside runs, and Moore needs to open it up more – especially on early downs – than he’s been doing in recent weeks.

Run defense a work-in-progress

Dallas faced another contest where the opponent’s game plan on offense was to run it right at them. Once again, the Cowboys rarely found an answer. One of Dallas’ biggest weaknesses continues to be their run defense and, if an offense commits to challenging them in the run game, they haven’t shown that they can solve it.

In Week 13, the Saints ran for 153 yards, including 101 from quarterback Taysom Hill, to gouge Dan Quinn’s unit on the ground. Hill showed that even if the defense zeros-in on running backs, mobile quarterbacks can still give them fits.

The Cowboys should get help with some defensive linemen returning for the foreseeable future, but offenses will try to hammer Dallas on the ground until they prove that they can stop it.

Do you think Dallas is prepared enough to stave off Washington in the NFC East? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.